Drug War

Stoned Drivers vs. Drunk Drivers


A few weeks ago, I noted that the Obama administration, reputedly more enlightened than its predecessor on matters of drug policy, is encouraging states to enact gratuitously punitive laws that treat drivers with marijuana metabolites in their urine as if they were drunk. Since traces of marijuana can be detected in urine long after the drug's effects have worn off, this policy is just an excuse for sending pot smokers to jail. I suggested that tests of THC in blood would be a more accurate measure of impairment, comparable to the standard for alcohol. But as at least one commenter noted, there is an argument for treating drivers under the influence of marijuana less severely than drivers under the influence of alcohol: They are less of a threat to public safety. Experiments repeatedly have found that marijuana has a less dramatic impact on driving ability than alcohol does, with the added advantage that pot smokers seem to be more aware of their impairment and therefore tend to compensate for it by slowing down (whereas drinkers tend to speed up). In the latest study, reported recently in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, subjects who smoked a joint containing marijuana with about 3 percent THC "decreased their speed [more than the sober control subjects did] and failed to show expected practice effects during a distracted drive," but "no differences were found during the baseline driving segment or collision avoidance scenarios."

In their book Marijuana Is Safer, which I reviewed in the April issue of Reason, Steve Fox, Mason Tvert, and Paul Armentano cite marijuana's relatively minor impact on driving ability as a public safety advantage. To the extent that legalizing pot encourages people to shift from alcohol to marijuana, it could actually produce a net decrease in traffic deaths, contrary to the nightmare scenarios painted by prohibitionists.

Armentano surveys the evidence on marijuana and driving here.

[via the Drug War Chronicle]

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  1. No link to the “Buzzed Driving” radio PSA? I feel so cheated 🙁

    1. The stoners will run over kids on bikes! TV told me so!

  2. … the Obama administration, reputedly more enlightened than its predecessor on matters of drug policy,

    I think we can lay that canard to rest.

    1. ‘…meet the new boss…”

      1. Same as it ever was.

  3. Hmm, I can see the headlines now: Already known to be racists, Libertarians encourage driving while high.

    1. “…while eating babies and endorsing crony capitalism.”

      1. Don’t forget the polyamory without a license.

      2. “and watching crush videos during dog fights!”

        1. would “cock fights” be more derogatory?

            1. Dog vs Rooster maybe? With a few toddlers in the ring, for good measure.

              1. With Steve Smith raping eating the survivors on Pay Per View (the profits going to fund the Reason Love Boat ride).

                1. Now THATS what i call synergy.

  4. Experiments repeatedly have found that marijuana has a less dramatic impact on driving ability than alcohol does

    And lets not even get started on sexting-while-driving…

    (what?! sexting isn’t in firefox’s dictionary yet? wth?)

  5. I’ll believe it when I see it on Mythbusters.

  6. …reputedly more enlightened than its predecessor on matters of drug policy…

    By whom? I have annoyed people here enough by linking to Obama’s (pre-election) Berlin speech where he compared people who sell products to consenting adults with terrorists who murder innocent people, I won’t do it again. In any event, Obama’s actions speak louder than his words.

    Who are the morons who still think Obama is any better than Bush the lesser?

    1. I miss Bush II more and more with every passing day. Least he was funny.

      1. Yeah, he produced many more malapropisms than Obama.

        1. I hate having to rely on the VP for stupid statements.

    2. My lefty friends are still trying hard to believe.

      1. …And I think I’ll forward them the original article to further crush their illusions.

        1. I’ve stopped trying with most of mine; it’s obvious their critical faculties have been turned “off” not that the right people are in charge.

          1. I’ve given up with my lefty friends.
            They cannot distinguish between power and influence, money and wealth, society and government, free markets and crony capitalism, and a host of other critical things.
            I simply cannot have a conversation with someone about certain subjects when they equate things that are not the same.

      2. My lefty friends are still trying hard to believe.

        Fuck your stupid lefty friends, they voted for this douchenozzle, they own this insanity as much as he does.

        Episiarch, this crap makes me lean more to anarcho-captitalism every day. I about ready to ask you “Where do I sign up?”

        1. The first step to becoming an anarcho-capitalist is realizing that there is no where to sign up, and shouldn’t be.

          1. We still need an address for people to go to, to sign-up. So they don’t interfere with the real (spontaneous) meeting.

            1. The first rule of anarcho-captitalism is, you do not talk about anarcho-captitalism.

  7. IMO, a stoned driver is a better driver than a straight driver.

    1. Stop picking on the heteros! Our species needs breeders too you know.

    2. [after Spicoli wrecks Jefferson’s car]

      Jefferson’s Brother: My brother’s gonna kill us! He’s gonna kill us! He’s gonna kill you and he’s gonna kill me, he’s gonna kill us!

      Jeff Spicoli: Hey man, just be glad I had fast reflexes!

      Jefferson’s Brother: My brother’s gonna shit!

      Jeff Spicoli: Make up your mind, dude, is he gonna shit or is he gonna kill us?

      Jefferson’s Brother: First he’s gonna shit, then he’s gonna kill us!

      Jeff Spicoli: Relax, all right? My old man is a television repairman, he’s got this ultimate set of tools. I can fix it.

  8. A driver driving too slowly on a road is a threat to the safety of others as well. A highway full of cars going 75 mph is safer than a highway full of cars going 30-60. That’s partly why there are minimum speed limits.

    That said, this is a dumb, dumb idea.

    1. Not quite. A highway full of cars going 75 and 1 car going 30-60 is more dangerous than a highway full of cars going at the same speed. Everyone going slower is definitely safer than faster. Destructiveness of a crash increases with the square of the speed.

      That said, if you are too stoned to maintain the minimum speed on an interstate (usually 45, I believe), then you probably should not be driving.

      1. If you’re driving 50 MPH in the Quickie Mart lot you are probably drunk, if you’re there to shoplift $50 worth of snacks you’re probably stoned.

        1. $50? You must be small.

          1. Just old. Used to be you could buy A LOT of stuff with $50.

            1. Sry gramps, i forgot that you used to be able to go to the movies all Sunday for just $50. And you got two bags of popcorn and a pepsi to boot!

            2. (it was $0.25 when my dad told me that story a mere 20 years ago.)

              1. When I was a kid twenty five cents bought a Hershey bar at 5 cents, a Rolling Rock root beer at 12 cents and a lot of sweet tarts and bubble gum.

                1. So you’re almost 20?

                  (inflation jokes ftl)

      2. Driving high on the highway is easy if you have cruise control. All you do is hit the right speed, get in the right lane, and push the cruise control button, and you don’t have much else to do. Driving on the secondary roads is much more difficult, because you have to pay more attention and you have to stop and start more. As somebody who has driven high plenty of times, I can definitely say that it isn’t that difficult all in all. Weed makes you slow, but it doesn’t remove your spatial intelligence the way the alcohol does.

        1. Way to out yourself as a fuckup. Because driving while under the influence is so hip.

    2. net energy calculation would tend to lead to a different conclusion…and where do you find highways with a uniform distribution of speed 30-60 or one where everyone is going 75?

      1. one where everyone is going 75?

        Every decent interstate I’ve ever been on?

        1. Keyword: decent.

          Who wants to complain about people using the passing lane to not pass?

          1. What’s a passing lane?

    3. This.

      What this told me is that people who are high are dangerous! Way to…be, Reason? I thought you were on the other side ;_;

      Also, this exposes the mystique of pot. “It doesn’t even make you as high as alcohol does!” cry the supporters. Well…ok? I’ll get high cheaper and legally on beer, then? FTW?

    4. Only inexperienced stoned drivers drive slower. Once you are used to the effect the paranoia goes away. When I drive on pot I drive either exactly the speed limit and obey all traffic laws (when the roads are empty) and when there are cars in front of me I match their speed within reason (unless they’re going 7 or more over). Never had a single accident.

      I also know what point is too much to drive (and there indeed is such a point, especially with certain strains). I’d like to see this study done with experienced potheads who drive.

  9. it could actually produce a net decrease in traffic deaths

    It could actually produce a net decrease in revenue.

    And that would be unacceptable.

  10. As bike rider that frequently catches the aroma of drivers smoking, I find both scary. nothing like having stoned driver with reduce reaction time laughing hysterically as he runs you over.

    Arguments like this, are just plain stupid.

    1. As a car driver that frequently has bike morons disobey traffic rules and get in the way, I find it incredibly obnoxious. Nothing like having an idiot on a bike thinking they’re a car cycling frantically as they weave through traffic.

      Arguments like yours are just plain stupid.

      1. As a physician that pulls ER duty from time to time and has patched up both stupid bikers and car drivers who think they both own the road road, I find both of your argument incredibly stupid.

        Bike rider Gaia dude, your argument fails because drug use and bike riding are not mutually exclusive, and bike riders are usually smug douchbags anyway.

        Epi, yours fails because car drivers are much more likely to be distracted by texting, make up application, eating and all sorts of distractions.

        Stupid operators of either conveyance are just plain stupid.

        1. Groovus For God Emperor.

        2. One look around American freeways, in L.A. for instance, confirms the ubiquity of Moronic Operators of Conveyence.

    2. Did you actually read the part where it says that stoned drivers showed no difference in collision avoidance scenarios?

      Wait, you obviously did not.

      1. must have been stoned

    3. The happiest hours of my youth were spent driving around and getting stoned. And we were always dead serious when running over cyclists.

    4. And we were always dead serious when running over cyclists.

      Zeb wins.

    5. I find both scary

      So, you haven’t actually been run over by a group of hysterically lauging stoners, you’re just find it scary?
      Just because people driving around high scares you, it doesn’t mean that you have an increased risk.

      Really, you have provided no substantial counterpoint to the article’s argument. All you have provided is an example of you own smug bedwetting and shown an inability to properly ride a bike in an urban environment.

      1. Some people are afraid of dogs, lakes, and balloons. Should those be illegal as well?

        1. If the dog, lake, or balloon is of the scary Saturday-Night_special style, yes.

          1. Dogs, lakes and balloons should only be in the hands of the police, who are properly trained in their safe usage!

            Assault balloons!
            Military grade lakes!
            Automatic dogs!
            Oh My!

        2. I think as long as they’re not “assault” dogs, lakes and balloons, then they should be legal.

          1. cap beat me to it…:)

            1. Are we forgetting Crystal lake?

              1. That wasn’t the lake’s fault.

              2. Jason is more like a silencer applied to your weapon, so he’s the one that’d be illegal, not the lake itself.

                However, EPA regulations state that it’s unhealthy to swim in water contaminated with that much blood.

              3. Oh, I remember when they were trying to have background checks and “cooling off” periods, before you could use Crystal lake.

                I was at one town hall meeting and a fellow there summed it up succinctly; “Crystal lake doesn’t kill people, Jason Vorhees kills people.”

                No measures were passed, and many pot smoking naked chicks were unfortunately killed.

                1. Typical.

        3. “Rover.” Be very afraid.

  11. Since traces of marijuana can be detected in urine long after the drug’s effects have worn off, this policy is just an excuse for sending pot smokers to jail. I suggested that tests of THC in blood would be a more accurate measure of impairment, comparable to the standard for alcohol.

    That fucking hippie Jacob wants to interject scientific fact into a policy debate when we all know it’s about how many votes and/or dollars you can garner is what really matters.

    Rational consideration of the law and it’s effects is so 18th (Age of Enlightenment) century.*

    1. They’ll take my blood from my cold dead arm… but they can can have all my urine they want, that is, all they can swab from their floor

    2. Saliva tests are more accurate. But still. The point is that if a substance does not negatively affect driving ability past a comporable limit we have already established (.08 alcohol), there is no rational reason to ban it.

      We don’t ban people who drive just after getting out of bed before having coffee (drowsy) and i’d wager the effect on driving ability is much greater in comparison.

  12. I’m curious as to what constitutes suspicion sufficient to forcibly collect a urine sample. I’m betting Failure to Signal.

    1. Broken taillight.

      1. Driving while black.

          1. face full of fritos & doritios

            1. Phish sticker and Visine.

    2. No Obama/Biden bumper sticker.

      1. Does the “Fuck Obama With Biden’s Dick” sticker count?

    3. Looking like Cheech. Or Chong.

  13. As someone who has done both (and currently chooses to do neither) I’ll definitely agree that driving stoned is much less dangerous than driving drunk. Though I would not say driving stoned is safer than driving straight. It’s too easy to get distracted. A glance at something (like the speedometer) can easily turn into several dangerous seconds of attention not being paid to the road.

    But I’m sure an expert with books and degrees (and zero real world experience) is much more qualified to speak on the subject than a stoned alcoholic like myself.

    1. It’s too easy to get distracted.

      Sober drivers are just as skilled at that bit.

    2. Agreed, as long as you’re talking about driving very drunk vs. very stoned. I probably drive better after 4-5 beers (that’s not “very drunk” for me; I’ve regrettably driven after many more than that) than I do very stoned, because of the distraction problem.

    3. Then again, there was my friend who, driving me on the Cross Bronx Expwy., said pot didn’t affect driving, and then floored the accelerator to prove it to me.

      1. Robert, my experience has taught me that one is well advised to get through the Cross Bronx Expressway as fast as one can.

        1. Better yet, its called the Tappan Zee Bridge.

    4. Ah yes, the standard ignorant response to everything drug related – THESE ARE MY ANECDOTES! THE PLURAL OF ANECDOTE IS DATA! I’m pretty sure an expert with books and degrees who conducted studies on stoned and sober drivers IS more qualified to speak about it than you are.

      1. Not necessarily. A person doing a study on “marijuana” in driving is not likely to take into account the different effects of different strains, for example, or take into account how experienced users react versus inexperienced. Those are hard things to do in a study, especially when in the United States the government gives out the weed used in the studies and the exact composition is rarely mentioned in the final reports.

    5. It all depends on the strain. An Indica strain with a high concentration of CBD compared to THC will have that affect. A sativa dominant strain with low CBD would tend not to.

  14. Zeks: Look, man, if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to drive while I’m stoned. You know your perception is completely fucked so you just let your hands work the controls as if you were straight.

    Heavy Metal

    1. Nice landing!

  15. No fake study can erase the truth: Driving while high is equivalent to murder.

    1. No fake study can erase the truth: the stimulus didn’t work.

    2. I suppose by “fake” you mean anything other than a study commissioned by politicians where those conducting the study are tasked with coming up with a predetermined conclusion to justify legislation that has already been written.

      1. The drug warriors are the only ones who know the truth about illicit drugs. You libertarian liars should listen to them some time.

        1. SRSLY, are we being punk’d? Somebody is fake-posting under Juanita’s name. Nobody is that clueless.

          1. Nobody. Aside from you today, Hugh.

            SRSLY, You’re questioning a Juanita post?

            1. I’ve always known that Juanita is a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to the question of drugs. But her posts of late have seemed to land in the area of full-on self-parody.

              When I imagine someone who is in favor of the War on Drugs, I always picture a rent-seeking police bureaucrat who wants more funding and ill-gotten asset seizures, or a moral scold who thinks that killing dogs and old ladies is a necessary evil to keep kids from getting addicted.

              But the idea of someone going full retard on teh evuls of reefer is beyond the pale.

              1. But her posts of late have seemed to land in the area of full-on self-parody.

                Of late? where have you been the past few years?

              2. I’m new here and I genuinely thought she was being sarcastic. Open-mouthed gaping now.

                1. See Hugh, even the noobs know its fake….at least, until they read this thread and picked up your idea that Juanita is serious.

                  1. Pot DOES make you stupid.

                    1. Prove it. Show me a study of an IQ test taken under the influence and “straight”.

  16. ” I said that I would see you because I had heard that you were a serious man, to be treated with respect. But I must say no to you and let me give you my reasons. It’s true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling which they consider a harmless vice. But drugs, that’s a dirty business. “

    1. I don’t want it near schools! I don’t want it sold to children! That’s an infamia. In my city, we would keep the traffic in the libertarians. They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.

    2. Then we are agreed. The traffic in drugs will be permitted, but controlled

      1. Yes, with reductions of efficiency in favor of “competition.”

  17. A few weeks ago, I noted that the Obama administration, reputedly more enlightened than its predecessor on matters of drug policy, is encouraging states to enact gratuitously punitive laws that treat drivers with marijuana metabolites in their urine as if they were drunk.

    And just think how much of a good time everyone’s going to have if Marijuana is successfully “medicalized”, but not fully “legalized”.

    Imagine patients being busted for DUI a week after they took their medication.

  18. It’s really hard to make a valid comparison between EtOH and THC w/r/t driving. The data for EtOH are solid, and the effect of a given BAL on reaction time and likelihood of causing a fatal cash is pretty predictable at the population level…most people blowing a 0.04 are fine, if a bit slower, most everyone blowing a 0.15 has no business driving whatsoever, and most people blowing over a 0.2 are going to pass out soon, if they haven’t already.

    The same predictable correlation hasn’t been shown for THC, at least as far as I know. The subjective effects vary from person to person, from time to time, etc.

    Anecdotaly, I’ve certainly been too stoned to drive. And I’ve certainly been 100% fine when THC metabolites would have shown up in my urine.

    1. The same predictable correlation hasn’t been shown for THC

      Its tough to conduct proper research with contraband.

      1. By which I’m implying that we can’t know one way, or the other, without some measurements.

        1. Absolutely true. You can get MJ for research, and some has been done (including on driving). But it’s a puddle compared to the ocean of data on EtOH.

          1. And by “you” of course I mean “a researcher with a DEA license, funding, and the metric fuckton of paperwork necessary to conduct such a study.”

            1. metric fuckton of paperwork


          2. You can get MJ for research

            Lanky, scraggly buds that have no relation to the cannabis that anyone smokes in modern times. Good science.

          3. You can get DEA marijuana for research, the composition of which is questionable. Anybody who uses MJ medicinially will tell you that different strains create different effects. Some make you drowsy (Indica), some make you alert (Sativa). This is due to the differing ratios of CBD to THC.

  19. I thought this was going to be the next “Versus” on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

  20. Alchol/MJ, no matter, driving under the influence of either shouldn’t be against the law. It’s against the law to drive in a condition that makes you more likely to have an accident? What about teens, old people, and texters? It just is hard to argue being “pro drunk driving.” I mean if you pull up to the DUI Checkpoint without destroying the other cars and/or the cops waiting, then haven’t you demonstrated that it isn’t sufficiently affecting your ability to drive? I know it’s really about the money, I just think it’s stupid.

    1. Which is why there should be no per se proscription against drinking and driving. Open containers? Officer, would you prefer that I litter instead?

      1. Does the open container law apply to empties?!?! SHIT! Oh wait, i don’t drive. Whew.

  21. But as at least one commenter noted, there is an argument for treating drivers under the influence of marijuana less severely than drivers under the influence of alcohol: They are less of a threat to public safety.

    You’ve never been caught between a stoned guy and taco bell, white castle, eat rite diner, or 7-11 with cheetos on sale.

    1. And that’s why i advocate 2nd-chance exits…err, i mean, Stoner Lanes in every drive-thru.


  22. My personel experience has been that there are certain young adults who when they get really drunk feel the need to go out and hit every bar and drive like an idiot when they do. These are usually your chronic DWI’ers You give these same people some pot and they don’t want to leave there comfy couch and TV. Everyone is safer including them.

  23. Astonished that you would seemingly advocate for the policing of bloodstreams for marijuana OR alcohol under the pretense of keeping roads safe from impaired drivers.

    The State has no right to any such jurisdiction.

    If impairment due to any reason is observed, remove the driver from the road.

    Government has no business in the bloodstreams of the nation.

    1. Alcohol is an overwhelming factor in traffic accidents and deaths. Some reasonable regulation is necessary, otherwise you get to defend a society in which many, many more people die from alcohol-related accidents. Guess their next of kin can just sue, and that makes it all ok? I do think they often are way too strict though.

      1. I am not making a case FOR drunk driving.

        Not surprisingly, like 99.99% of the population I am against reckless and dangerous driving – regardless of the cause.

        If you can be pulled over at random for an invasion of your bloodstream via breathalyzer, you can also be pulled over and removed from the road for erratic driving. You can also be tested any number of ways – how ’bout the same tests used to ESTABLISH the amount of blood alcohol that = impairment – and have your appearance and behaviour assessed to determine whether you are likely to pose a threat to others while driving.

        YES the State is too strict – I have never driven after drinking more than 4 drinks in a sitting, but I know those who routinely polish off 6 or 8 and are perfectly capable.

        Under no circumstances may the State enter into or extract the contents of my bloodstream. I don’t care how noble their cause, how good their intentions, or who they claim to be “protecting”.

        The notion expressed in this piece that the State is justified in measuring the amount of other substances in your bloodstream as part of their Prohibition and Command & Control rituals is offensive.

        If a driver is truly a danger to others on the road, it is obvious and s/he can be taken off the road. Nothing more needs be done and nothing more can be justified.

        1. I can’t say I’m unsympathetic to your point… being someone who’s taken risks a time or two hundred. But in principle enforcing drunk driving bans is just about protecting innocents from harm on a common road system.

          1. So you condone the State drawing blood for its saintly purposes no matter how many alternative approaches exist?

  24. With boozes one runs the red light, with grass one stops for the green.

    1. exactly:)

    2. The correct line is:

      The drunk driver speeds through the stop sign without seeing it.

      The stoned driver stops and patiently waits for it to turn green.


  25. Where are chad and tony?

    They should be here telling us the wonders of government regulation and explaining how enlightened the obama presidency is.

    1. Just arrived… Of course I’m against the drug war and Obama’s fake naivite on the issue of cannabis.

      But since you’re a paying customer, here’s a strained defense: he’s a master politician, and if taking a stand against the drug law status quo (as much good as it would do for society) means he’s likely to lose on his stated policy priorities, it makes sense for him to take this position. Climate change is more important, really. Though Beyond that I think drug law reform (and associated criminal justice reform) should be near the top of the list.

      1. Yes, because criminal justice reform would help ease the cycle of poverty and imprisonment in the black community, whereas greenhouse gas legislation would have the sole effect of making you feel better.

        Don’t worry Tony, no one will ever accuse you of being too smart for your own good.

  26. Climate change is more important, really.

    Go fuck yourself, stupid.

    1. Tony fucked himself stupid a long time ago.

  27. We slowed the administration down a little with a successful Petition for Correction under the ONDCP Information Quality Guidelines, which stopped them from directly and falsely claiming that an NHTSA study proved there was a percentage of “impaired” drugged drivers on the roads. Now they just imply it.


  28. Still True, no matter what doped up libertarians say…


  29. THC and its metabolites in the blood would not tell you that the person had been smoking prior to driving. Detectable levels can still be found nearly half a day after smoking, in some users. Pot smoking drivers are not the menace the government would want you to believe they are.

    1. *I meant blood tests would not tell you if a driver had smoked immediately prior to, or during, driving, they could have smoked earlier in the day.

  30. The Kids Saving Kids Campaign and Becca Levy are still looking for a few good musicians in Montana. If you want to help raise awareness of drunk driving prevention with your music, visit http://www.ksk.stopddnow.com. You must be the age of 18 or under and have an original recorded song.

    Get more information and submit your music to http://www.ksk.stopddnow.com

    Save Lives with Your Talent!

  31. The argument posed by this article is horribly weak and naive

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